Human Rights Situation in Belarus: March 2018
- the country’s prisons continued to hold two political prisoners, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Paliyenka. The latter is also a prisoner of conscience, according to Amnesty International. Zhamchuzhny still faces harassment by the prison administration;
- the authorities have not dropped the criminal charges against leaders of the independent trade union REP Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik;
- during the month, there were numerous cases of arrests and harassment of bloggers and independent journalists, including in connection with their coverage of peaceful assemblies;
- despite the Minsk city executive committee’s permission to hold a rally and concert in the capital on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the BNR independence, the city authorities banned a march organized by a number of opposition politicians. Moreover, the ban was not motivated by permissible restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly contained in Art. 21 of the ICCPR;
- Freedom Day celebrations were accompanied by mass arrests of citizens. In total, according to the Human Rights Center "Viasna", more than 120 people in 12 cities across the country were arrested on March 25, most of whom were later released without charges;
- of particular concern are the arrests of observers of a joint monitoring initiative co-run by the HRC "Viasna" and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The facts are an instance of harassment of human rights defenders in connection with the exercise of their legitimate human rights activities;
- on March 6, human rights defenders learned that that death row inmate Kiryl Kazachok was executed back in October 2017;
- thus, March was not marked by any significant systemic changes in the field of human rights.
Political prisoners and politically motivated persecution
On March 13, Amnesty International announced an urgent action in support of Belarusian prisoner of conscience Dzmitry Paliyenka.
The 23-year-old activist “is being exposed to conditions that exacerbate his asthma and denied medical treatment for an untreated wound,” according to the organization’s press release.
On March 13, the Horki District Court considered an appeal by political prisoner Mikhail Zhamchuzhny against a series of penalties imposed by the administration of penal colony number 9 in September-October 2017.
In particular, the prison authorities repeatedly punished the political prisoner for his refusal to join a detachment consisting of convicts with low social status. For this, in September-October, Zhamchuzhny faced four penalties: one month in PKT on September 4, 10 days in a punishment cell on October 5 and October 16, and five days in a punishment cell on October 26.
However, the court ignored the administration’s biased attitude to the political prisoner and rejected the appeal.
The court earlier repeatedly turned down the political prisoner’s complaints: in December, the court considered a complaint against the penalty handed down in August 2017 and saw no reasons to meet the claim. Subsequently, Mikhail Zhamchuzhny appealed against the court ruling to the Mahilioŭ Regional Court, however it brought no results.
The prisoner was never brought to the courtroom, although had requested an opportunity to attend the hearings.
In addition, the Public Monitoring Commission was unable to meet with the political prisoner while visiting the colony; the prison authorities wrongly explained the ban by the prisoner’s stay in the punishment cell.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" learned that on March 15 Zhamchuzhny received another penalty — seven days of solitary confinement. This was his twenty-fourth penalty imposed since August 2017, when the prisoner was transferred to colony number 9 in Horki.
On March 27, the court of Minsk’s Maskoŭski district began its consideration of a collective claim by four defendants in the case of an “illegal armed formation” to the Ministry of Finance of the non-pecuniary damage caused to them by the unlawful arrest and lengthy detention in custody. Earlier, the criminal case was closed due to lack of a criminal offense in the defendants’ actions.
Harassment of human rights defenders
Aliaksei Loika, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", received a reply to his complaint from the Prosecutor's Office of Minsk, which quashed the decision of the Pieršamajski district office of the Investigative Committee to refuse to initiate a criminal investigation into his beating on March 25, 2017.
On March 20, Aliaksei Loika received another response from the Investigative Committee about the police violence during the briefing of observers on March 25, 2017.
During the year, the Investigative Committee found no grounds for a criminal case against riot policemen, who inflicted injuries to the human rights activist, and for the third time refused to open a criminal case.
Seven observers of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee were arrested while monitoring an unauthorized rally in Yakub Kolas Sqauer in Minsk on March 25. Maksim Kavaliou, Tatsiana Mastykina, Andrus Krechka, Hanna Sakhankova and Nasta Loika were then taken to the Saviecki district police department, while Anastasiya Vasilchuk was brought to the Pieršamajski district police department. She was eventually released without charges. The six observers were charged under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events), and observer Tatsiana Mastykina faced an additional charge under Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to a lawful order of a police officer). In addition, Mastykina was subjected to violence, after she reasonably refused to undergo fingerprinting. It is worth noting that all the observers were clearly marked, wearing blue jackets with the words “Observer” on the back and badges with photos, names and an indication of the organization that delegated them to monitor the meeting.
All the observers were finally released from the police station under the obligation to appear in court the following day, March 26, when they were informed that the hearing was cancelled and no new date was announced.
The death penalty
According to information received by the coordinator of the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus" Andrei Paluda from the mother of death row inmate Kiryl Kazachok, the death sentence was executed.
According to preliminary information, Kazachok was executed at the end of October 2017.
Kiryl Kazachok was sentenced to death in late 2016 by the Homieĺ Regional Court. The convict refused to appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court.
Amnesty International intervened on behalf of Kiryl Kazachok and released an urgent appeal to President Lukashenka asking him to put an end to executions in Belarus.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned the execution of Kiryl Kazachok.
The EU also said that it expects Belarus to immediately introduce a moratorium on executions as a first step towards their complete abolition.
Harassment of journalists
On March 7, Judge Ivan Kastsian herad the administrative case of a Belsat cameraman Andrei Kozel charged under Art. 23.4 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to a lawful order or request of an official in the exercise of official authority), who “violated the secrecy of the vote counting” on the day of elections to local councils of deputies. The court ruled to sentence Kozel to a fine of 735 rubles.
On March 12, the Court of Pinsk heard the administrative charges of popular bloggers Siarhei Piatrukhin and Aliaksandr Kabanau. They were accused of illicit manufacture of media products under Part 2, Art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code. It is noteworthy that it was YouTube that was viewed as foreign media in the case. The court said posting videos was worth 40 basic amounts for each blogger.
At least seven journalists were arrested by the police while covering the events of the Freedom Day in Minsk on March 25.
Violations of the right to peaceful assembly
The authorities continued to violate the right to peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the international commitments of Belarus in the field of human rights.
In particular, deputy chairman of the Homieĺ City Executive Committee Vital Atamanchuk did not allow representatives of the city branch of the Independent Trade Union of Radio Electronic Industry Workers (REP), Andrei Stryzhak and Leanid Sudalenka, to hold on March 15, the Day of Belarusian Constitution, a picket in defense of their union.
Mahilioŭ human rights activists reported that the city executive committee refused to meet a request by local members of the REP trade union to hold a picket on Constitution Day, March 15. According to the organization’s legal inspector Aliaksei Yauhenau, the authorities demanded that the activists first provided pre-paid service contracts for first aid and a cleanup of the territory, although the applicants promised to pay for the services, as soon as the application is approved. The picket was expected to be held in an authorized place, the stadium in Čaliuskincaŭ Street. The participants were going to express solidarity with the REP trade union, to demand to stop interfering in the internal affairs of the union and to drop criminal charges against the trade union leaders Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik.
The Mahilioŭ city executive committee banned a picket on March 25 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic in the Square of the Stars, as the site is not on the permitted places list. Instead of the city center, according to mspring.online, the authorities offered to celebrate the centenary at a deserted stadium in Čaliuskincaŭ Street, which, according to one of the applicants Aleh Aksionau, the organizers rejected.
Heavy fines were imposed on activists who campaigned in support of the Belarusian language. On March 14, the Court of the Maskoŭski district of Minsk tried activist of the BPF’s youth wing Yahor Serhiyenka, who was fined 50 basic units; on March 13, the Zavodski District Court sentenced activist of the Young Front Pavel Prakapovich 50 basic units for collecting signatures near the Mahilioŭskaja metro station. On March 15, Raman Hancharou, activist the Belarusian Christian Democracy, was fined for collecting signatures near the Kamennaja Horka metro station. On March 12, the Kastryčnicki District Court fined Nasta Huseva, activist of the Young Front, 15 basic units. On March 20, Judge Yury Hustyr of the Centraĺny District Court of Minsk ruled to fine Dzianis Mandzika, activist of the BPF’s youth wing, 25 basic units on charges of Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code. The total amount of fines awarded to language rights activists by March 28 amounted to 245 basic units, or approximately 2,500 euros. On March 29, two more activists were fined: Volha Mayorava was fined 35 basic units, and Aliaksandr Patapau — 10 basic units.
On March 21, a few days before Freedom Day, Minsk police arrested several political activists. These included politician Uladzimir Niakliayeu. He was apparently taken to serve 10-day detention, which he was awarded in November last year. Then he was punished for alleged incitement to join the March of Angry Belarusians 2.0.
Opposition activist Maksim Viniarski was arrested outside his house when he was walking with his dog. On the same day he was taken to the Pieršamajski District Court and sentenced to 10 days of detention for staging a protest of solidarity with the blocked resource charter97.org on March 13, displaying near Čaliuskincaŭ Park a banner reading “Freedom to Charter’97”.
Viachaslau Siuchyk was arrested near his apartment and taken to the police department of Centraĺny district. Later it became known that he, too, was taken to the detention center in Akrestsin Street. He was sent to serve a 5-day detention imposed on him by a court ruling of the Partizanski district of Minsk for his involvement in the Day of Military Glory protest on September 8.
Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski on behalf of the organization expressed strong disagreement with the actions of the authorities.
On March 23, activist of the European Belarus opposition group Yauhen Afnahel was arrested and punished by administrative detention of 10 days.
Leanid Kulakou was arrested and sentenced to 10 days of detention for participation in an unsanctioned rally in support of the website charter97.org, which was held on March 13.
In the regions, there was a wave of preventive arrests of activists in order to prevent their participation in the events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of Belarus’ independence in 1918.
On March 23, police officers arrested Halina Smirnova, Babrujsk leader of UCP and the REP union. She was held in the city detention center and then charged with violation of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code.
On the same day, police arrested Brest blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin. On March 24, police arrested blogger Aliaksandr Kabanau. He was told that the arrest was linked to the administrative charges for his participation in an unauthorized mass event in Brest on March 18.
On March 25, opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich was arrested in Minsk and sentenced to 10 days of detention. Belsat journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva, Siarhei Kavaliou, Ihar Illiash and Liubou Luniova were also arrested. Dozens of people carrying national symbols were arrested in Yakub Kolas Square in Minsk. They were eventually released a few hours later; at the same time, more people were arrested outside the location of permitted event near the Opera and Ballet House.
By late evening, opposition politicians Uladzimir Niakliayeu, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Leanid Kulakou, Maksim Viniarski, Yauhen Afnahel and Mikalai Statkevich were released from detention.
On March 26, trials were held across Belarus to hear charges against local activists pre-emptively detained on March 24 and 25. Several police reports were sent back for revision, the remaining cases resulted in the imposition of penalties, including fines.
Belarusian human rights organizations issued a statement to protest against the pre-emptive detention of activists across the country in the run-up to, during and after the events marking the centennial of the Belarusian People's Republic. According to the human rights defenders, on March 25, police officers arrested at least 120 people. At least 12 persons in Minsk faced charges under Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events). At least seven journalists were repressed.
The event earlier authorized by the city government was held according to the scheduled format in front the building of the National Opera and Ballet Theater. The event included a rally and a concert.
Mikalai Radzivilau, 65, is seeking criminal proceedings against policemen in the town of Talačyn who badly beat him two and a half years ago. The man was arrested following a conflict with his neighbor; he was beaten on the way to the police station; the injuries were later documented in the hospital. However, until now, the investigators have not established which of the injuries were caused as a result of the beating (these included broken ribs) and which were inflicted earlier.